WTO Rules on Technical Barriers to Trade

25/08/2008 12:00 - 1499 total view

TV sets, toys, cosmetics, medical equipment, fertilisers, meat and cheese are all subject to requirements relating to their characteristics and/or the manner in which they are produced. The purpose of these requirements may be the protection of life or health, the protection of the environment, the revention of deceptive practices or to ensure the quality of products. These requirements may be mandatory, set and enforced by governments. More often, however, these requirements are rules laid down by national tandardisation bodies, which are not mandatory but are nevertheless generally adopted in business transactions in a given country. In both cases, these requirements may constitute formidable barriers to trade. TV sets and cheese made according to the requirements of country A may be banned from, or difficult to market in, country B when the requirements of country B relating to the characteristics or the manner of production are different. Furthermore, procedures used to verify whether a product meets certain mandatory or voluntary requirements may obstruct trade. Measures of this kind are commonly referred to as ‘technical barriers to trade’. This paper deals with the WTO law on such barriers. One must distinguish between:

  • the general category of technical barriers to trade, for which rules have been set out in the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, commonly referred to as the TBT Agreement; and
  • a special category of technical barriers to trade, namely sanitary and phytosanitary measures, for which rules are provided in the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, commonly referred to as the SPS Agreement.

The rules of the TBT Agreement and the SPS Agreement are of great importance to international trade. As discussed below, these rules go significantly beyond the GATT obligations not to discriminate among or against imported products. They impose certain international disciplines on national regulation regarding products, their characteristics and production.